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Greece owes lenders hundreds of billions of dollars, its deficit is over 13 percent and the economy is in recession. As Greeks come to terms with the the future they're also reflecting on just how they got to this point. The World's Gerry Hadden reports from Athens.
MARCO WERMAN: Even with a trillion dollar rescue package on its way, Greece's financial problems aren't over. For one thing, Greeks haven't fully bought into the necessary spending cuts their government has pledged. Opponents are vowing to hit the streets again in Athens to protest. Last week's riots left three people dead. But so far this week has been relatively calm in the Greek capital. And residents there have been trying to come to terms with how their country got to this point. The World's Gerry Hadden reports from Athens.
GERRY HADDEN: Ask vegetable vendor Potinee Stavru who she blames for the Greek crisis and she grabs a potato with one thick hand and shakes it in your face. If I were to steal this potato she says angrily, I'd go to jail. But when the politicians steal millions of dollars, nothing happens to them. Stavru's venting is nothing new. The vast majority of Greeks share her anger towards government leaders. They accuse them of stealing, bending the rules, cooking the books, you name it. But what she says next is sort of surprising. The two main political parties here robbed us blind, she says, but it's our fault because we voted for them. That mea culpa is rare in Greece, but a kind of collective soul searching has begun. People aren't just railing against the ruling classes these days, or foreign creditors. They are questioning themselves. From working class neighborhoods like this one to the swank villas of the country's elite.
ALEXANDROS MEGAPANOS: We say in Greece that Greece kills her children. This is what Greece is doing.
HADDEN: Alexandros Megapanos is one of Greece's most successful wine makers. His comment sounds extreme, but it's actually a common expression here referring to the Greek myth of Cronus who ate his own kids out of fear they'd topple him one day. Megapanos explains further.
MEGAPANOS: In games that play together with several people, I mean football or basketball, we are not so good because we cannot even work together. We are not used to working as a team. From school everyone is working for his own and not as a team.
HADDEN: Megapanos says that explains why bribery and corruption are so prevalent. Greek society, he says, is every man for himself. Some shrug and say that's just the way we are. Rampant tax evasion and a political culture of favors, they say, stem from a distrust of government dating back to Ottoman rule. But Kostas Bakouris with Transparency International says the seeds of this crisis were planted only a couple of decades ago. Ironically, he says, it started as Greece was joining the EU when development money came pouring in from Brussels. Greeks went from being poor and hard working, he says, to having easy money.
MEGAPANOS: Then we became part of the Euro. Then the interest rates fell down tremendously because we used to have a weak drachma and the interest rates were double digit. Nobody could buy a house. And all of a sudden now he could buy a house with very cheap interest and they would go to extremes of going on vacation and borrowing money.
HADDEN: The credit bubble grew and grew until, well, you know the rest. Greece's recent soul searching has included an unexpected voice, that of 98-year-old Stylianos Pattakos. Pattakos is the last surviving member of the military junta that ruled Greece from 1967 to 1974. He told the British newspaper that this crisis proves that Greeks need authoritarian rule. They're not disciplined he said, like the Germans or the Brits. For their part, Greek Communists say the economic melt down is their great chance to rise up and discredit capitalism once and for all. They'll form part of the next nationwide protest scheduled for this Saturday. But the voices the current socialist government is hoping will prevail are those calling for calm. Local heart surgeon Stratis Pattakos echoes many when he says all Greeks should admit their mistakes, correct them, and move on.
STRATIS PATTAKOS: We progress. This is the country, this time I read international history that this country had a significant contribution in the past. We have to honor this contribution.
HADDEN: Pattakos is referring of course, to ancient Greece's distinction of being the world's first democracy. For The World, I'm Gerry Hadden in Athens.